It’s A Wonderful Life On Stage at the Reedley Opera House

Dec 5, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Reedley News, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

It started as a Christmas card for friends. It found its way to Hollywood, where Frank Capra turned it into a movie that didn’t make much money. Years later, it was picked up by television stations, and it suddenly became a Christmas classic, one of America’s most-beloved films…..It’s a Wonderful Life. Reedley’s River City Theatre Company has mounted an adaptation on the Reedley Opera House stage through December 16. It’s light fun and some great moments.


Cast of RCTC’s production of “It’s A Wonderful Life”

You know the story—suicidal man wishes he was never born, and his guardian angel shows him how much of an impact he has had on others, and what the world would be like if he was never a part of it. It’s been lampooned and lauded. The plot has been stolen for more TV episodes and movies than you could watch in a year. This time, there are some interesting casting twists.

Daniel Vigil-Reyes as George Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart role) embraces the anger inherent in the character. All the selflessness and indignities George has endured would taste bitter to most men, and Daniel helps us feel that side of the story. He’s tall, reminiscent of a younger, thinner George Lopez, and his final plea to return to life is a powerful scene.


Tamara Applegate (Aunt Tilly), George Bailey (Daniel Vigil-Reyes), and Uncle Billy (Don Applegate)

Rene Mendel is Clarence Oddbody, the Guardian Angel—Second Class—assigned to keep George from killing himself. She’s cheerful and active, refreshing and energetic, tasked with narrating movie scenes that couldn’t be done on stage. Dressed a bit like Lucille Ball’s tramp-clown outfit (without the blacked-out teeth), she leads George back to an awareness of the preciousness of life.


Clarence Oddbody (Rene Mendel)

George’s love, Mary, is Carissa Hall. Often seen as a background performer in wispy roles, she takes advantage of the opportunity to show her talents, in turns coy, devoted, resourceful, and maternal. She’s a delightful surprise in this production.


Mrs. Potter (Elizabeth Applegate) and her Goons (Sam and Bekah Applegate)

Instead of the villainy of Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, Elizabeth Applegate is Mrs. Potter, the bitter old woman who owns most of the town and wants the rest of it. Attired much like Tweety Bird’s Granny, she slowly spits out her snarling lines, emphasizing her orders with a pounding cane. Her orders are carried out and enforced by her Goons (Sam and Bekah Applegate), dark-glasses-wearing, pint-sized minions, a cross between Men in Black and the Lollipop Guild.

Timothy K. Heinrichs, as the old druggist who almost makes a deadly mistake, shows strong emotions. Don Applegate as Uncle Billy, whose mistakes drive George to the brink, is lovable…and a bit dotty. Tamara Applegate plays Aunt Tilly (instead of the movie’s Ma Bailey) with kindness and grit. (Yes, there are a lot of Applegates in this show.)
Charlotte Burks, as one of the Bailey children, shows how hard it is to deliberately make mistakes on the violin when you obviously have some skill. Camelia Villagomez, as Violet, the town’s “bad” girl, is trashy-seductive, yet sympathetic.

Joseph Hill directs a cast that contains many newcomers to the Opera House stage. He was a set builder, the light designer, and even gets a chance to step onstage as an angry man. Scenic artist Lorena Mercado provided evocative work that sets the tone for a user-friendly version of a familiar tale.

Reedley’s River City Theatre Company is located at 1720 10th Street, Reedley. It’s a Wonderful Life continues on stage through December 16 . For further information and to purchase tickets you can go to their website, or call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. We just put up our Christmas episode! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian with the Fresno County Public Library and has published several short stories.


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